As a disabled musician I spend a lot of time thinking about performing live and especially about the obstacles, which make that prospect terrifying. I can’t speak for all musicians with disabilities, but I feel confident saying many of us experience some combination of the following mental questions:
Is the venue accessible? What about the stage? Does it have a lift or a ramp? Is the lift big enough for my wheelchair? Is the ramp wide and with a gradual incline? If not, could I perform in front of the stage without the mic feeding back? Or could I play in a manual chair and get lifted to the stage? Will there be a mic stand with a boom that won’t constantly lower throughout the set? What time would I perform? Can I conserve enough energy to even be awake at that time? And do I possess the stamina to play a set that long? Are the bathrooms accessible? At least tell me there’s an accessible parking space!
I think it goes without saying that when confronted with such a dizzying array of questions, a lot of people decide it’s not worth it. Wouldn’t you? Even for those of us who have successfully tackled the challenge numerous times, it’s no less daunting.
When I weigh the pros and cons of each performance opportunity, I try to remember why it’s important not just for me but for all musicians with disabilities to bring our music to live audiences despite the immeasurable fears and barriers that may lie before us. These are my personal reasons for persisting. And if you’re a musician with a disability, maybe these will inspire you to keep performing as well.
Motivate venues to become accessible and accommodate musicians with disabilities. Maybe in booking or seeing a disabled musician, the owner or manager of a venue will see the importance of accessibility – or at least the frustration inaccessibility causes both the musician and the venue. The venue staff may respond by improving accessibility after witnessing that frustration or hearing firsthand the talents of musicians with disabilities. While that outcome is not guaranteed, we can be sure that if a venue rarely sees a disabled performer, it is less likely to make access a priority. Put another way: the more musicians who require access, the more reason to become accessible.
Reward accessible venues with your business and support. When you perform at a venue that is accessible, you validate their investment. You show them the reason they became accessible in the first place. If you bring fans and play a great set, even better! Through helping to demonstrate the success of an accessible venue, you may actually inspire other venues to implement similar accessibility features.
Pave the way for future musicians with disabilities. Every time you perform at a venue, you not only benefit yourself. You also make it easier for the disabled musicians who play that venue after you. Think about it: every new musician with a disability offers the venue staff more experience with an incredibly diverse minority; the staff has an opportunity to problem solve, learn what works and what doesn’t, implement changes before the next show; and the musicians who play after you bring even more positive changes. All of this means that future musicians with disabilities can focus more fully on their art and less on the logistical challenges that stifle it.
Shift perspectives of what people with disabilities can do. Improving accessibility at live music venues, and thus making performance opportunities more widely available, will ultimately increase visibility of disabled musicians and help challenge misconceptions that audiences may have about people with disabilities in general. This can have positive impacts in other areas like employment, healthcare, media representation, and more. And frankly, the world is brighter and more fun when everyone is included.